Want to grow your business? Northern Nevada’s fastest-growing companies share advice for success
RENO, Nev. — Give them pizza.
Or throw them a barbecue.
Or a dance party.
Creating a culture of employee appreciation (often via food) is one valuable lesson Ty Whitaker has learned over the years as CEO and co-founder of The Abbi Agency, a Reno-based public relations and marketing firm.
Last year, The Abbi Agency, which also has offices in Las Vegas and New York, was named one of the 5,000 fastest-growing companies in the United States by Inc. Magazine.
The company that launched in 2008 was one of four burgeoning Northern Nevada businesses that doled out slices of advice at a special event hosted by NCET on Jan. 21 at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center.
Focusing on culture, Whitaker stressed the importance of building a fun and positive environment and encouraging employees to take the lead in helping create it.
“Every summer we have a barbecue on Friday and each department is in charge of what the theme of the barbecue is,” Whitaker said. “And through the employee surveys, we discovered that the biggest thing that they talked about was those barbecues on Fridays.”
Further illustrating his point, Whitaker added: “I read one time somewhere that employees appreciate pizza on Fridays more than they do a cash bonus.”
He’s not wrong. In a productivity experiment led by behavioral economist Dan Ariely, he found that pizza was a greater motivator for increased productivity than a cash bonus. It’s a study he recounts in his 2016 book, “Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations.”
Whitaker said identifying what motivates employees “has been key” to the success of The Abbi Agency, which grew 105% over the last three years and reported $4.2 million in revenue in 2018, according to Inc.
BALANCING THE SCALE
When it comes to growing, some small businesses proactively blueprint how and when they will scale, while others scale as a reaction to a surge in business.
HIDEit Mounts falls into the latter category, said Relina Shirley, co-founder and CEO of the Reno-based company that makes wall mounts for electronic devices.
Shirley said she had that revelation a handful of years ago when HIDEit Mounts — which also made the “Inc. 5000″ list for 2019 — received an order too tall for them to fill.
“We had a 1,600-piece order come through and they wanted it right away. And we could not fulfill that order,” Shirley said. “That 1,600-piece order was that turning point where we actually started putting things into motion of creating plans and deciding, OK, I guess we have to move out of the garage and we have to hire people.”
HIDEit Mounts has come a long way since launching in 2012. It has 14 employees and has grown 348% over the last three years as id mid-2019. The company reported $2.9 million in revenue in 2018, according to Inc.
For Steve Conine, president of Reno-based staff agency Talent Framework (another 2019 “Inc. 5000″ member), scaling was spurred from joining Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), a worldwide community of thriving entrepreneurs.
Notably, the EO Reno Tahoe chapter launched an accelerator program in February 2018.
“You start spending time with other entrepreneurs who are just big thinkers, they see the world in a different way than I saw it,” Conine said. “And there was some inspiration of … wow, I wonder how we could ever get that big? Or what steps did you take? It led us down the path of hiring a professional business coach and establishing processes that can make things run repetitiously so that you can focus on doing things creatively to expand and grow the business.”
According to Inc., Talent Framework (which launched in 2007) has grown 174% over the last three years and did $13.5 million in revenue in 2018. The company currently has 1,353 employees.
LET WOMEN LEAD
For Kunall Patel, owner of Davidson’s Organics, a Sparks-based distributor of organic teas, hiring and promoting women has been integral to the company’s growth.
All told, 80% of Davidson’s Organics leadership roles are held by women.
“One thing that’s worked for us is a lot of our farmers across the world are women,” said Patel, who has family-owned farms in Darjeeling, India. “And we’re running two shifts now and every leadership position we have in our company is all run and managed by women — from operations managers to production to warehouse managers.
“That’s hard to find in an industrial environment.”
In recent years, Davidson’s Organics has doubled the size of its warehouse, grown to 65 employees, and launched 15 new products.
SOCIAL MEDIA EFFECT
The thriving business owners also discussed the role social media plays in growing a business. Simply put, using social media is no longer an option, rather a necessity, they said.
“We spend a lot (on social media),” Shirley said. “For us, I think the cost is offset with what we would spend going through traditional retail channels, going through distributors.”
Shirley said an effective long-term social media strategy is “leveraging user-generated content.”
“Engage your audience by having them actually get involved and create that community,” she continued. “For us, that’s what entirely set us apart. Because none of our competitors have what I would consider a legitimate brand — they have no following, they have no community. We do. When you go and look (on social media), you’ll see a ton of people with #afterHIDEit, showing their stuff.”
As a farm-to-cup tea company, Patel said Davidson’s Organics tries to cater to millennials and Gen Xers with frequent and relevant posting.
“If you’re not on it (social media) today, you’re going to lose traffic overall,” he said.
Conine admitted he was “averse” to social media for “a long time,” but last year made the move to invest in the medium. He doesn’t regret it.
“We kind of decided to go all in and spend on social media engagement and geofencing to try to reach people in a more effective way,” he said. “We’re starting to reap the rewards of it.”
“The thing that I like most about entrepreneurship is I can work toward something that I’m passionate about and be at the forefront of the change that I want to see happen,” said Priyanka Senthil, a senior at Davidson Academy in Reno and co-founder of startup company AUesome.